Gallbladder Disease: My Experience
Different types of gallbladder diseases
Do you think you might have gallbladder disease? I had it for years before my suspicions were confirmed. I knew I fit the standard profile or the four “Fs” – fat, forty, female, and fair (white). I had also had several children but hadn’t breastfed, which made me an even more likely candidate. My gallbladder symptoms were rather vague. They included some pain, but it wasn’t severe. The worst part of the disease was that I just felt bad much of the time. Once the problem was identified, I was ready to get that sucker out! The physician who performed my gallbladder removal was an old schoolmate, so I felt completely comfortable with him, and we joked around a lot. I tried to talk him into letting me have the organ after the surgery. He asked me what I was going to do with it, and I told him I wanted to use it for shark bait. He didn’t give me my gallbladder, and I never could understand why not. After all, it was mine, and I was paying for the gall bladder surgery!
The human gallbladder (or gall bladder, as it sometimes appears in search engines) is located just under the liver, in the upper right part of the abdomen. The gallbladder is a sac-like organ, typically about three inches long, and it’s capable of holding a little less than two ounces of bile. Bile, an acidic fluid, is produced by the liver and is concentrated and stored in the gallbladder. When we consume foods that contain fat, a message is sent to the gall bladder to squirt bile into the duodenum, which is the first section of the small intestine. Bile helps the body break down and digest fats.
Most people associate gallbladder disease only with gallstones. You can, however, have gall bladder disease without having gallstones. I did. When I first began to have pain in my gallbladder region, I ignored it for a long time. Since it persisted, I finally went to the doctor. He ordered an ultrasound, which revealed no gallstones. I left the office, without a clue as to what was causing my pain.
When the gallbladder symptoms persisted, I returned to my doctor. He ordered another ultrasound, and again, no gallstones were found. I convinced him that something was going on with my liver or gall bladder, so he sent me to our local hospital for more tests. There, I had a gallbladder function test. For this, I was injected with a synthetic fat, and the technician watched my gallbladder on a screen to see how the organ was functioning. My doctor’s nurse called with the results. My gallbladder was functioning at 1%! In other words, it was “dead,” even though I had no gallstones.
There are several types of gallbladder disease. Cholelithiasis is the term used when gallstones have formed in the biliary tract, and cholecystitis is when the gallbladder is inflamed, usually due to gallstones. Choledocholithiasis is when gallstones are blocking the bile ducts. Cholangitis is the inflammation of the bile duct, often caused by an infection. Cholestasis is the term used when the flow of bile is significantly reduced or completely obstructed. Acalculous biliary dyskinesia is the term used for a gallbladder that doesn’t function properly, in the absence of gallstones. Obviously, I had the latter. My doc sent me to a surgeon, and my gallbladder surgery was scheduled.
Gallbladder symptoms – gallbladder attack
Gall bladder symptoms can vary from person to person. I usually experienced an almost constant nagging pain, but many people have a sudden onset of gallbladder symptoms, which is often called a gallbladder attack. My gallbladder symptoms included pain just beneath my ribcage on the right side, along with a full feeling. A gall bladder attack, on the other hand, might include more severe pain and vomiting. Gallbladder symptoms might also include fever, diarrhea, and/or chills. Gallbladder pain might also be felt under the breast bone or in the back, under the shoulder blades.
A gallbladder attack can be triggered by different foods with different people, but foods high in fat are the usual culprits. Sometimes an attack can be caused by seemingly no reason at all. An episode might last less than an hour, or it could last for several hours. I know people who suffered extreme gallbladder pain and excessive vomiting. For others, like me, the symptoms can be vague and hard to pinpoint.
Gallstones are fairly common, but most people don’t realize they can be life-threatening. The stones are formed in the gallbladder and might be as small as grains of sand or almost as large as a hen egg. Gallstones vary in composition and color. They might consist of cholesterol, bilirubin, phosphate, calcium, or a combination of these materials. Gallstones range in color and might be green, pale yellow, brown, or almost black. Gallstones that obstruct the bile ducts can cause pancreatitis or ascending cholangitis, both of which can result in death.
Gallbladder surgery – gallbladder removal
The term for gallbladder surgery is cholecystectomy, and there are two basic types – open and laparoscopic. Gall bladder surgery – the open version - used to be terrible, as the patient was practically “sawn in half” and had to stay in the hospital for several days. Nowadays, however, gallbladder removal is often done laparoscopically, with just three or four small incisions in the abdomen. Thankfully, my gall bladder removal was done in the second manner I described. My gallbladder surgery took only a few minutes, and as soon as I recovered from the general anesthesia, I was allowed to go home.
I had four incisions, but only one really caused me pain – the one in my upper right abdomen. It didn’t hurt all the time, but when I used my abdominal muscles to get up or to lie down, that incision hurt. You don’t realize how much you use those muscles until they’re compromised in some way. I never did have to take any pain meds, however, even though I was prescribed some narcotics after my gall bladder surgery.
This was just before Christmas vacation from school, so I was off for several days to recover. It didn’t take long, though, for me to be better than new! In fact, just a couple of days after my gallbladder removal, I hosted a huge Christmas party. I felt better than I had in years, as that constant gnawing pain and the general sense of not feeling well were both eliminated – forever. Well, I still have other aches and occasional illnesses, but they’re not associated with my gallbladder. If you think you might have gallbladder disease, please get it checked out. I wish I had done so sooner. Having gallbladder surgery was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.